ZISCO Steel Chairperson Eng. Martin Manuhwa Opens Up on Resurgence, Impact on the Mining Industry & Economy

The engineering, iron, and steel sectors in Zimbabwe have recently been given a lifeline, offering hope for the country’s mining industry and economy. Notable shifts in the sector include the revival of ZISCO and the anticipated commissioning of Dinson Iron and Steel Company (DISCO), offering massive potential revenue. The steel industry is a significant factor…

The engineering, iron, and steel sectors in Zimbabwe have recently been given a lifeline, offering hope for the country’s mining industry and economy. Notable shifts in the sector include the revival of ZISCO and the anticipated commissioning of Dinson Iron and Steel Company (DISCO), offering massive potential revenue.

The steel industry is a significant factor in the mining value chain, and recent activity has breathed some hope into its dormant state.

The resurgence of the engineering, iron, and steel industry is expected to boost employment opportunities, creation of new technology and equipment, increase productivity and efficiency and ultimately encourage further investment in the mining industry – as we’ll explore.

The forthcoming commissioning of ZISCO steel and DISCO will form the backbone of Zimbabwe’s iron and steel industry, offsetting the high cost of importing steel products while providing essential raw materials and equipment needed for mining operations.

Spotlight on ZISCO Steel

At its formation, the iron and steel industry Production was aimed at supplying the country with cheap iron and steel products to stimulate metal fabrication industries, according to consultancy Reports published in 1991 by the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies. An analysis of the shipment of iron and steel between 1939 and 1949 shows that about 81% of the steel sold, in value terms, was within the domestic economy, 16,8% went to Zambia, with the rest going to Tanzania, Botswana, Zaire, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya and South Africa.

The inward-looking policy did not last long. The financial problems faced by RISCOM led to the expansion of the plant which was not matched by increases in demand. The only way to cope with increased output was to export the excess over domestic needs. A deliberate move to make the industry an export enclave was taken during UD I when the government was in desperate need of foreign currency to sustain the war effort and to save the economy from total collapse. Between 1977-1980 on average about 80% of the total sales were earmarked for the export market.

Economically, ZISCO has survived through Government grants, loans and subsidies. By 1979 government loans to ZISCO totalled about Z$92 million. Subsidies to ZISCO’s products were stopped in 1980. This resulted in heavy cash flow problems. In the period 1981/82, ZISCO was reportedly operating at a loss of Z$l,25 million per day; and the management claimed that it required about Z$25 million to keep it in operation.

To demonstrate how much of a big deal Zisco steel was during its hey days, the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit on the steel industry, as quoted by the Africa Report said, the inactive company represents an estimated $14bn in lost potential revenue per annum. This is a huge deal for a country whose entire gross domestic product was only $20.68bn in 2022, according to the World Bank.

The steel company, located in Redcliff, which used to produce 1.2m tonnes each year, had fallen off the cliff (no pun intended) to 12,500 tonnes by 2008. ZISCO also used to employ over 5,000 people directly at its peak in the late 1990s.

Zisco finally shut down in January 2008, following three successive power outages from the national grid coupled with cooling water challenges leading to the cooling down of Coke Oven batteries and subsequently the cooling down of the Blast Furnace.

False starts at Reawakening

Many are rooting for the revival of Zisco, while some are adopting a wait-and-see approach following several false starts. Those at the helm believe this will finally happen in the next two years.

Kuvimba Mining House is leading the expected comeback, following the collapse of several attempts by the Zimbabwean Government to revamp Zisco by seeking a strategic partner with a potential foreign investor. Among potential investors that showed keen interest in Zisco include Essar Africa Holdings, a unit of India’s Essar Group having agreed to invest US$750 million into Zisco in 2011 during the era of the inclusive Government. However, the deal collapsed in 2015. In late 2019, negotiations for a US$1 billion revival deal between Zisco and R & F of China were signed, but the venture also collapsed. Early last year, Cabinet approved the partnership between Zisco and KMH which has vast interest in gold, platinum, chrome, lithium, and nickel to revive operations at the steel plant.

Possible contributions to the engineering and mining industry.

This new and seemingly successful deal with DISCO is expected to create over 50,000 jobs, including indirect jobs, provide new technology and equipment, and increase the capacity of the steelmaker. This will boost the engineering, iron, and steel sectors and encourage other investments in the mining industry.

The revival of ZISCO will also help to address some of the challenges that the mining industry is facing, such as the high cost of importing steel products. With local steel production, the mining industry will have access to locally produced, high-quality steel products at lower costs, which will ultimately result in increased efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness.

Furthermore, the revival of ZISCO will stimulate downstream industries such as metal fabrication, construction, and manufacturing, creating a much-needed ripple effect throughout the economy. It will also boost the capacity of local businesses to supply the mining industry with critical inputs and services, further strengthening the industry’s value chain.

Steel production figures in Africa.

According to the World Steel Association, Africa produced 1.3 million tonnes of crude steel in September 2023, down 4.1% on September 2022. Expert Market Research in a report noted that the African steel market size reached a volume of approximately 38.3 million tons in 2023, and the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.10% between 2024 and 2032. The market is estimated to witness healthy growth in the forecast period of 2024-2032 to reach 45.9 million tons by 2032.

The growing construction industry, rapid urbanization and industrialization, and diversification of steel applications are major market drivers.

The key players in African steel market, according to the report, are ArcelorMittal S.A, Hesteel Group, Egyptian Steel Group, African Industries Group, Elmarakby Steel, Suez Steel Company, Devki Steel Mills Limited, Steel and Tube Industries Ltd, Ezz Steel, and The Libyan Iron & Steel company, among others.

dotzedw caught up with ZISCO Steel chairperson, Engineer Martin Manuhwa, who shed some light on the goings on at Zisco and how it will contribute to the mining industry and the economy. Martin Manuhwa is also the current Chairperson of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Engineering Capacity Building Standing Technical Committee (WFEO CECB).

Below is what he had to say:

Q: May you give us a brief overview of yourself and your background and contributions to the capacity building and growth in the engineering, iron and steel industry in Zimbabwe and the region.

Thank you for the opportunity for me to share a few thoughts about my background and its impact on the capacity building in the engineering, iron and steel industry locally and globally.

I am the current chairman of Ziscosteel and I am grateful for the trust and bestowed in me to lead a team of the board, management and staff that has been tasked with the responsibility to resuscitate the country’s once famous integrated iron and steel company. I have a passion for human capital development, strategy and engineering.

No problem is bigger than the combined efforts of our citizens especially when we work as a committed team that applies innovative solutions to our current challenges. We also need to believe in our ability to push the frontiers of knowledge and commit to action and outcomes that bring results. This is best done through cooperation of multiple partners including academia, industry, government, and the society.

I have admired the fruits of Education 5.0 espoused by his Excellence the President of Zimbabwe and would like to see this filter into fruitful partnerships between mining and universities in setting up industrial centres of excellence, incubation and innovation hubs in the engineering, iron and steel sector. I am talking from firsthand experience about the fruits of partnerships with universities for I have had the privilege to chair the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) Council and also to lead the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Engineering Capacity Building Standing Technical Committee (WFEO CECB) , the ECZ and the ZIE, where such partnerships models have borne fruits.

Q: Can you shed some light into the progress being made on the commissioning of Zisco Steel.

A: As you are aware Zisco stopped operations in January 2008 following three successive power outages from the national grid coupled with cooling water challenges, leading to the cooling down of coke oven batteries and subsequently the cooling down of the blast furnace plant. After several attempts to revive Zisco operations, Kuvimba Mining House (KMH) was successfully approved by Cabinet as a strategic partner of the ZISCO steel Resuscitation Project in 2022. A contract was signed on the 27th of December 2022, appointing them as the Manager of Ziscosteel Revival Project. The Resuscitation Project was divided into the Mining and Steel Plant phases.

Preliminary works include feasibility and market studies, along with engineering and process designs. The technical appraisal of the steelworks plant will be conducted by SMS Group, a German-based steel equipment manufacturer, while the market studies, engineering/process designs will culminate in a bankable feasibility study and business plan now in progress.

We have so far conducted a detailed ‘as-is’ analysis of the business entities and the respective business operations under ZISCO steel – to get an understanding of the state of the plant, equipment, human capital and the mineral resources we have. This was important to validate the initial resuscitation plans which had largely been formulated before Covid-19, when commodity prices were higher and the economics of exploring our mineral resources to support a specific strategic approach was more viable. The lower prevailing commodity prices are forcing us to explore alternative options to fund the resuscitation project initiatives – however, our main strategic approach remains that of leveraging on our mineral resources to fund the resuscitation.

We envision full iron ore mining operations by the first quarter of 2024. There is some progress in limestone mining resuscitation, where dewatering is currently underway.

Steel is important for major economic sectors like mining, agriculture, and construction. The envisaged full recovery of ZISCO steel, which will ultimately see Zisco turning into a US$1,1 billion business at the end of a five-year business cycle, was however a complex operation which needed due diligence and the best globally available technical input.

To this end, Zisco, thanks to Kuvimba, has enlisted the services of service providers of international repute to make sure that the revival was not bungled. Local consultants, higher education institutions and research agencies will be prioritised to ensure that we harness and retain skills in the country. We also forecast a complete transformation of the old ZISCO steel as we will focus new technologies, and environmentally friendly practices that consume less energy. The focus will be on decarbonised steel and green products. We call upon all stakeholders to assist the government efforts to achieve the revival of our own steel giant. Once back on stream, Zisco will join Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco) in Manhize, to form the backbone of the country’s iron and steel industry.

Q: How the resurgence of ZISCO boost employment opportunities for the engineering, iron and steel industry?

A: According to the Engineering, Iron and Steel Association of Zimbabwe (EISAZ) sector strategy (2022-2026), 50 000 jobs would be created across the value chain. At its peak, ZISCO alone directly employed over 5 000 people and these created further downstream jobs. More than 30 000 people were impacted by these direct employees. We hope to have achieved half of that number in the first three years when the resuscitation proceeds according to plan. However, we should caution that there will be a factor of the technology pathway that we will follow, so our employment targets will be informed by technology and the feasibility studies that are currently underway. It’s no doubt the Engineering, Iron and Steel Industry is a huge employer directly and indirectly and besides, it acts as a catalyst to all the industries in the country, especially the manufacturing sector.

ZISCO steel as an entity when fully operational employs a large pool of experienced engineers and other professionals. A steel plant is a very complex operation that makes use of all professional disciplines as well as less skilled workers. Thus, to also ensure that we have a sufficient pipe line of engineers that fully understand how the steel making process works we have our own engineering training centre that trains graduates and these graduates are then contracted as interns with other companies to gain full employment with us upon completion of their internship programmes with others finding opportunities elsewhere. In one way this is our contribution to the wider economic space in Zimbabwe beyond those we would have employed.

Preliminary indications are that Disco would create 10 000 jobs directly once the Manhize operations start, while 1 700 jobs have been created from the works already underway. The establishment of the steelworks will see the launch of several infrastructural projects such as road and rail networks, and a dam to provide water for domestic use, irrigation and industrial operations at the plant.

The development of the steelworks will also see a new town sprouting as well as a number of infrastructural development projects.

There are about 600 000 employed people in the mining, construction and manufacturing industry, and ZISCO is going to add significantly to this number.

Q: What would you say is the strategic importance of the engineering, iron and steel industry to the mining sector?

A: The engineering, iron, and steel industries play a crucial role in the mining sector by providing essential materials and equipment necessary for mining operations. Here are some strategic importance points:

i. Equipment Manufacturing: The engineering, iron, and steel industry produce machinery and equipment vital for mining operations, including heavy-duty vehicles, drilling machines, conveyor systems, and processing equipment. The mining sector heavily depends on this equipment for efficient and productive mining activities.

ii. Infrastructure Development: The engineering, iron, and steel industries provide the materials necessary for building mining infrastructure. Steel is widely used in constructing mine shafts, pipelines, infrastructure for ore transportation, and structural components in mines. The mining sector’s expansion and development largely rely on the availability of quality steel and engineering expertise.

iii. Technological Advancements: The engineering, iron, and steel industries contribute to the development of innovative technologies and processes that enhance efficiency, safety, and sustainability in mining operations. This collaboration between the two sectors promotes advancements like automation, remote monitoring, and environmentally focused practices.

iv. Economic Impact: The interdependence between the mining and engineering, iron, and steel sectors creates a significant economic impact. The success and growth of the mining sector stimulate demand for engineering, iron, and steel products, which, in turn, supports employment, fosters economic development, and drives investment in related industries.

Overall, the engineering, iron, and steel industries play a vital strategic role in the mining sector by ensuring a consistent supply of raw materials, manufacturing essential equipment, enabling infrastructure development, fostering technological advancements, and generating substantial economic benefits.

Q: How will the return of Zisco steel impact the importation of raw materials needed to produce iron and steel products?

A: The mining industry heavily relies on the engineering, iron, and steel sector for the supply of raw materials such as iron ore, coal, and other minerals required for steel production. Without a strong engineering, iron, and steel industry, the mining sector’s raw material supply could be severely affected. The return of Ziscosteel will greatly mitigate the huge import bill, and ensure we do not export our jobs by importing raw materials required to produce construction products.

The largest impact outside of the employment, the respective downstream benefits to the immediate community in Redcliff/Kwekwe and the wider economy of Zimbabwe – will be the saving of foreign currency from import substitution – this will be significant. The contribution that we will also make to the Zimbabwean economy through taxes and dividends to the Government of Zimbabwe our largest shareholder will benefit the Zimbabwean citizenry greatly.

Q: What opportunities are there for exporting iron and steel products once everything is smooth sailing.

A: The opportunities are there especially to our neighbouring countries possibly outside of South Africa. None of our neighbouring countries outside of South Africa have steelmaking plants as big as Ziscosteel so the opportunities will be there.

Once everything is smooth sailing, there are several opportunities for exporting iron and steel products. Here are a few potential opportunities:

i. International Infrastructure Projects: Countries around the world are constantly investing in infrastructure development, including the construction of roads, bridges, ports, and buildings. Iron and steel products are vital for these projects, offering opportunities to export products such as beams, rods, pipes, and structural elements.

ii. Automotive Industry: The automotive industry heavily relies on iron and steel for manufacturing vehicles. As economies grow and demand for automobiles increases, there will be opportunities to export components like engine parts, chassis, and body panels.

iii. Construction Industry: The construction sector is a significant consumer of iron and steel products. With booming construction activities in emerging markets, exporting items like rebar, beams, and pre-fabricated structures can prove lucrative.

iv. Machinery and Equipment Manufacturing: Iron and steel are essential materials for manufacturing machinery and equipment. As industrial production expands, there will be opportunities to export parts and components for various industries, including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

V. Energy Sector: The energy sector, particularly renewable energy, requires iron and steel products for infrastructure development. Exporting materials for wind turbines, solar panel structures, and hydroelectric projects can be a promising avenue.

vi. Household Appliances: Iron and steel play a vital role in manufacturing household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, and stoves. As middle-class populations grow in developing countries, the demand for these appliances will increase, providing export opportunities.

vii. Shipbuilding Industry: Iron and steel are fundamental materials for shipbuilding. Exporting ship plates, beams, and other components to shipyards worldwide can be a lucrative market.

It’s essential to keep an eye on market trends, international trade policies, and demand fluctuations to make informed decisions while exploring these opportunities for exporting iron and steel products.


In conclusion, the revival of the engineering, iron, and steel sector in Zimbabwe, particularly the resurgence of Zisco Steel, has given hope for the revitalization of the country’s mining industry and economy. The once-dormant sector has the potential to contribute significantly to the Zimbabwean economy, providing employment opportunities, boosting manufacturing and construction industries, and reducing the high cost of steel imports. The anticipated creation of over 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly across the value chain and the expected increase in the capacity of the steelmaker will ultimately result in increased efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. The opportunities for exporting iron and steel products to international markets are vast, and strategic partnerships with academia, government, and industry can support continued growth and innovation.

Feature image by Miguel Á. Padriñán | Pexels